Since the era of the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, I’ve been an avid enjoyer of DRPGs. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m good at them, but it’s a genre of game that almost never fails to release dopamine to my brain. After that console generation passed on to the afterlife, the Nintendo Switch did a solid job continuing the legacy. NIS America has been at the forefront when it comes to bringing first-person dungeon crawlers to the system, with games like Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk being incredible sleeper hits. They’ve continued this with the double pack of Saviors of Sapphire Wings and Stranger of Sword City Revisited, two games by renowned DRPG developer Experience. Saviors of Sapphire Wings is a remake of one of their older games, and Stranger of Sword City Revisited is an updated re-release of one of their most popular titles.
I came away from this collection rather surprised. This is worth getting, but not for the reason you might think. Neither of these games are bad (maybe a bit difficult to get into if you aren’t used to the quirks of the genre, though), but one game in particular has a lot more going for it. That game is, unfortunately, not Saviors of Sapphire Wings.
You’d figure the title at the forefront of the collection, the one we’re seeing in English for the first time, would be the one carrying the weight. It’s by no means a bad game, but it failed to impress me half as much as Stranger of Sword City Revisited did. The setting and story are more based on generic fantasy, and you can tell the budget was smaller. Stranger of Sword City Revisited is far from a big-budget title, but there’s a clear style on display at all times that shows that passion prevailed over a lack of funds.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings has a rather straightforward premise. You are the reincarnation of a hero who died at the hands of the Overlord. After he spent 100 years wreaking havoc across the land, you have to assemble a new group of allies to strike him down.
I always tend to prefer DRPGs with a focus on their story and main cast of characters, and Saviors of Sapphire Wings at least attempts this. Your party is made up of premade characters, known as your squires, and a large focus of the game is bonding with them. Dialogue choices frequently pop up, and how you answer them can affect how your party members feel about you. Your bonds are shown by their Soul Ranks. You can talk to them one-on-one in your main base, and the higher their soul rank the faster they’ll grow thanks to EXP bonuses in battle. Soul Rank can also increase or decrease in battles, depending on how efficient you are. Simple, yet effective. It weaves what narrative themes that do exist into the gameplay to give you a reason to engage with it. This was probably my favorite aspect of the game. Unfortunately, the main cast isn’t terribly interesting. They all seem to inhabit various tried and true tropes, and their dialogue did little to keep me invested.
The running theme of my time with Saviors of Sapphire Wings was “serviceable”. Every aspect simply gets the job done. For example, the art is of a very high quality but the style isn’t terribly creative. I understand that it is a remake of an old game, but it can be rather difficult for me to get invested in DRPGs that lack any amount of weirdness. This game plays it straight, which I know will likely appeal to people looking for a classic DRPG that plays it safe. Safe is not a dealbreaker, but I understand it can be for some people. I personally feel Experience is at its best when they’re being experimental. The Spirit Hunter series proves this, so I feel that my issues with Saviors of Sapphire Wings simply come from them not wanting to change things up for such an old game.
Most of your time is spent in dungeons and combat. Dungeons each have a gimmick to them, and your party is made up of a total of six units. There’s still plenty of customization, it wouldn’t be a DRPG without that. They all have recommended classes, but you can change them if you want to experiment. Combat itself didn’t hold my attention. You can adjust the difficulty for both games in this collection depending on your preferences, but at its core, I just didn’t have fun with the battles in Saviors of Sapphire Wings.
Stranger of Sword City Revisited has anything but a straightforward premise. You’re an average person whose plane crashes into a horrifying fantasy world. Fighting desperately to survive, you join a guild of other “Strangers”. You create a party and begin your journey through this new hellish world.
Stranger of Sword City Revisited has more of a focus on gameplay, but even what story does exist was much more interesting than anything Saviors of Sapphire Wings had to offer. Maybe this was just because the setting and art are more in line with my taste, but I found myself immediately more into this game. The game feels like it hits this nice sweet spot between the darkest corners of Dungeons and Dragons DM’s mind crossed with some of the coolest monster designs right from a Japanese Horror artist. They coexist extremely well, conveying senses of danger and stakes immediately. It also helps significantly that the game has occasional voice acting, which Saviors of Sapphire Wings lacks completely. The game was the right amount of obtuse and strange for me.
This game isn’t perfect, but it’s apparent just how much effort was put into it. The amount of mechanics can seem overwhelming at first. Making a party yourself could lead you to create one that’s incompatible and might lead to a frustrating experience. There are a lot of elements to take into consideration when making your party, and for people who obsess over little details this could end up being stressful. There are five characters given to you right away that exist as a “recommended party”, so maybe stick with those if you don’t care for excessive customization. Newcomers might find these to be huge flaws, but I can tell hardcore fans will find these elements praise-worthy. Revisited makes an attempt to be more approachable, but these are still worth taking into consideration.
There were supposedly a lot of adjustments to the original game with this re-release. I never played the original, so I had to consult others to figure out what was new. The localization got an apparently noticeable touch-up from the original, which is always nice to see. Three new classes were added, but you’ll have to check another review for thoughts on them because I used the default group offered when forming a party. Balancing has been improved, and there’s even a new Beginner mode for those who don’t find pleasure from overly hard video games.
Progression in both games is very similar, but Stranger of Sword City Revisited just handles the execution better in little ways. Quests are taken that will have you exploring dungeons and fighting battles. In terms of game feel, everything feels like it has more love and care put in here. The music stands out more, and battle UI makes encounters play out smoother overall. Dungeons are just more visually striking which naturally makes them more engaging to explore. It takes what could be another simple DRPG and adds a lot of flavor to it. It’s challenging but can offer a lot to those willing to take the plunge.
Despite how generic Saviors of Sapphire Wings felt, it’s a mostly solid DRPG. I wouldn’t recommend either of these for a newcomer, mainly because Saviors of Sapphire Wings is largely uninspired and Stranger of Sword City Revisited can be extremely challenging. However, for people who already enjoy what these types of games have to offer, Stranger of Sword City Revisited is a must-play. The striking art style, unique setting, and plenty of depth in its core mechanics will keep people coming back for more. The ports are good, and you’ll be sure to have a fun time with at least one of these if you’re a fan of the genre. The package is a little lacking, and there are much better DRPGs, but it is worth playing all the same.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by NIS America